Not All Things are Written in Stone: How to Find Flexibility in Your Writing Career

By Risa de Rege

The summer after I completed all my coursework for Humber’s Professional Writing and Communications graduate certificate was pretty representative of how my life has gone since.

armchair book books browse
Photo by Pixabay on

I finished an internship that offered me a few cool opportunities scattered through three months of boring ones and, after a too-brief visit to England to perform, went back to school part-time at UofT. I have a BA in history, art, and medieval studies, and always wanted to learn more sciences and anything else of interest. After spending a few months convincing myself that if it was what I wanted to do, then it was worth it, I went for it. It’s been great.

So since graduating, I have balanced a bit of school, a bit of opera, and a lot of work. I am living out the millennial dream of working three part-time jobs, but it actually works well for me. I have more flexibility in my schedule, more diverse work, and more time to myself. When doing my internship I found that a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five office job is not for me. I like a bit of interaction and variety. I don’t want to get bored, and by only being at a job ten hours a week (times three), I can mostly avoid the downfalls of being full-time while still earning enough.

To answer the question I would obviously have asked former graduates if I hadn’t been in the first cohort to graduate from the PWC certificate: yes, I did find work in my field after graduating. Thanks to a combination of talking to the right people and focusing on the right skills, I have been editing professionally for about two years. I initially went into writing and editing because there are opportunities to cover so many different areas and interests (these days I edit for the condo industry, but I still hold this statement to be true).

(A side note about working from home, for anyone considering it: it’s what you’d expect. It’s great to have flexibility in your hours and to be able to work wherever. But sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation or to have to cancel plans because you let yourself get behind and have deadlines the next morning. Generally, I like it and it works for me, but I’m not enough of a self-starter to make it work full time).

One of my jobs is editing, but the other two are at libraries. Earlier this year I made the decision to pursue this field more seriously; I’ve worked at UofT libraries for the better part of the past six years, but to land any real full-time work in the industry you either need credentials or to have been born well before the early 90s. I considered applying for a master’s but decided, for now, to do my library technician diploma instead. There is lots of merit in both, but the diploma program offers a more hands-on, technical approach than a master’s – and the tuition is much more affordable. After graduating university I actually almost went to Seneca for this program, but ultimately chose Humber – in part due to its close location and gentler schedule.

I don’t really see this as a career change from what I studied at Humber; all of my communication skills are transferable, and there is more crossover in course material than I expected. Library workers (and, arguably, most workers) won’t succeed if they aren’t good communicators.

I never wanted to be the kind of person who used the metaphor of a “career path” unironically, but I can’t emphasize enough how it doesn’t have to be a straight line from education to an entry-level job to a better job in your field that you work at until you retire. For most people, that’s not a realistic expectation these days, anyway. And for someone like me with more interests than I know what to do with, it’s boring! It’s worth it if you can manage it, to try new things, learn new skills, and see what works for you (and, equally important, what doesn’t). Every experience will be worthwhile, one way or another.

Risa de Rege is a Toronto-based copy editor/student/library worker/musician. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BA, history, art, medieval studies) and Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications certificate. Interested in the intersections of technology, culture, and information, she is now studying digital humanities at UofT and working on her library technician diploma through Mohawk College. An active classical soprano, past roles include Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Leila in Iolanthe at an opera festival in England.

A tour through the tunnels

PWC students go below ground to explore the history of Humber College

In this post, student writer Sarah Nieman chronicles an afternoon spent getting closer to the buildings we walk by every day. Sarah is a member of this year’s PWC cohort.

Humber’s Tunnels

With armfuls of legends and ghost sightings, you’d think that the entrance to Humber’s storied tunnel system would be a vault door with iron grating, or at least a hidden door, inconspicuous to the outside world. Instead, visitors to the tunnels begin their journey in the relatively unspooky L building, just past a mundane loading dock.

On Friday, December 2nd, several PWC students braved a cold and rainy day to follow Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre curator and guide Jennifer Bazar on a tour not only through the cottages, but through history.

The tunnels, like the red brick “cottages” they run beneath, were built in the 1880s by male patients of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto. What would first be called the Mimico Asylum and finally the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was designed as a “moral treatment” experiment; physical labour and a focus on the natural world around the hospital would heal patients.  Even the apple orchard that runs between the two sides of campus was part of this treatment: patients tended it and collected the apples produced.

Used to transport supplies from building to building, the tunnels originally had tracks running through them like in a coal mine. Although the tracks were removed in the 1930s, you can still see the domed brick ceiling and original river rock foundation in some sections.

The layers of building material that cover the walls of the tunnels is reminiscent of the stone layers found on grand ancient ruins. Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was continuously repurposed as the years went by, changes evidenced by varying materials, changing shades of brick, and bricked-over windows and doorways. Wandering the tunnels, some of which lead to buildings that no longer exist, those on tour can feel the energy of long-gone inhabitants.

A view from the past: Humber’s entrance and cottages

Historically, the facilities changed as the treatment did. The shift to physical intervention in the 1940s with the rise of electroshock therapy and leucotomies (the Canadian version of lobotomies) and then the synthesis of chemical anti-depressants in the 1950s and 60s saw a gradual population decline in the hospital. Patients no longer needed to live there to manage their illnesses.

The hospital closed in 1979, and lay mostly abandoned until 1991, when Humber College signed a 99-year lease for much of the property. The College restored the buildings to their current state: modern on the inside, yet restored to their original red stone beauty on the outside.

This year saw the opening of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, which chronicles the history and culture of the site. “History is a great way of challenging how people see the world,” curator Jennifer Bazar told me when I asked about the importance of studying the property, “It’s so easy to arrive on campus, go to class and head home – without ever taking a moment to realize the life the buildings around us have lived, the events they have ‘witnessed’.”

Tunnel tours at Humber College are available to the public on Doors Open and Culture Days, and to student groups by appointment. Humber College’s Lakeshore Grounds Interpretation Centre will open its first exhibit starting in January, focusing on a history of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. For more information, visit

Eileen Magill: My mom, the Superwoman


PWC student Eileen Magill shares a personal reflection on her mother’s experience with Celiac disease.

I must have been 12 or 13 when I realized my mom wasn’t well. She was showing signs of illness before then, but I had been too consumed with teenage affairs to notice. She was Superwoman, and to a naïve 13 year old, Superwoman could defeat any and every type of adversity.

In her 20’s, she was nothing short of stunning. She had thick brown hair, a flawless tan the colour of beach sand, and the body of a supermodel. But most importantly, she was healthy.

When she was 35, she was finally diagnosed with Celiac disease, but was sick for a long time before then. For years, she experienced massive weight loss, chronic pain, constant fatigue, anemia, and confusion. I remember at one point she had become so thin and fragile that I could see the bones protruding from her skin. Her face had developed so many wrinkles and her hair had grown so gray that people were astonished when shown photos of her in her 20’s. She was hospitalized 18 times before doctors finally discovered what was wrong with her. But by then, it was already too late. The Celiac had already eaten away at her digestive tract and it can now never be repaired.

Celiac disease causes the immune system to mistake gluten as a toxin and therefore sends out immunities to attack it in the intestines, destroying them in the process. It causes both physical and mental breakdown – nausea, pain, weight loss, dental enamel, depression, anxiety, irritability, and more.

The day I learned how serious my mom’s illness was, we were baking a cake for my 13th birthday. We were laughing at something my little sister did when my mom sneezed and cake batter flew and showered her face – her mouth, her nose, her skin – with gluten. We knew she wasn’t allowed to consume it, but we were ignorant of the consequences if she did.

Later that day, my friends and I were playing video games on my Nintendo 64 when I heard a big bang from upstairs. I ran up to discover that my mom had fallen over in pain and was too confused to find her way to the bedroom. Terrified, I called an ambulance and they arrived right away. I felt just as confused as my mom when I finally realized the source of her pain– the cake batter she had accidentally inhaled earlier was quite literally destroying her. Gluten was her kryptonite.

Today, my mom is much more careful around gluten, but even a crumb the size of a grain of salt can trigger an episode of violent illness, confusion, weakness, suffering.

While I was home visiting her this past weekend, I tagged along to one of her doctor’s appointments. I learned that her Celiac had progressed so much that it created other health problems such as hypothyroidism and collagenous colitis.

She doesn’t tell anyone about her illnesses because she doesn’t want them to think any differently of her. “My having Celiac may limit me from doing the same things as other people” she says. “But it will never change the one thing I really care about – my ability to be a good mother.” And she is right. She doesn’t let her kryptonite disable her. She has and will continue to be my mom, the Superwoman.


Natalie Richard’s Reflections on Her Internship

NRichard_HeadshotIn the third semester of the PWC program, students participate in internships that help them apply everything they’ve learned throughout the year.

Natalie Richard reflects upon her first few weeks interning in the Communications Department at The Kidney Foundation of Canada.

When I helped my brother, Daniel, move out of his place last year, it took us hours to get all of his equipment and prototypes packed. Daniel has gizmos and gadgets galore to help him think through his ideas and study his course work. I never realized there were so many different types of cords, wires and batteries before that move-out day.

Daniel and I have always had different interests. When we both went away for school, Daniel went to study biology and genetics while I pursued the visual arts.

Now, I have a chance to understand a little bit of Daniel’s world.

This summer, I am interning with the Communications Department at The Kidney Foundation of Canada. I get to learn about kidneys, hear patient stories, and read about the programs and services available for those touched by kidney disease. The research is interesting, and the creative writing and editing assignments have been engaging. I see the internship as a wonderful opportunity to ask questions and work alongside seasoned communications professionals.

In the past, Daniel has tried to explain to me how fascinating, and vital, the kidneys are. While these stories were interesting, I never took the time to fully understand Daniel’s enthusiasm.

With The Kidney Foundation, I am able to learn about a new field of study, witness the communications work of a national non-profit organization and take on projects that engage and challenge me daily. More than anything, my internship with The Kidney Foundation is a great way to learn through hands-on experience and develop a better understanding of the world of communications.

Risa’s Fictional Fundraising Letter


Our students are given a variety of assignments to help them prepare for real world scenarios. Here is an example of Risa de Rege’s letter for Annex Cat Rescue.





February 2, 2016

Annex Cat Rescue
P.O. Box 19028
360A Bloor Street West
Toronto, Ont., M5S 3C9
416 – 410 – 3835

Dear Michael,

I want to tell you a story that I think will warm your heart, even in this weather.

Winter, the lovely cat pictured below, came into our care on a cold winter’s day in 2014. Abandoned in the streets, he had a number of medical issues besides the bitter cold. Arthritis. Early renal failure. Severe dehydration. He wasn’t expected to live for very long.

Two years later, he’s thriving!Picture2

Winter was happily – and luckily – taken into a loving and caring home where he can play, sleep and eat all day. His medical issues are now in check and he’s as happy as can be. Any cat’s dream.

Winter’s is one of countless stories, but they don’t always have happy endings. There are an estimated 100,000 homeless cats in Toronto, and many of them will not make it, at risk of disease, malnutrition, or potential euthanization in overcrowded shelters. And cats need warmth and love now more than ever in these cold, dark months.

But there is hope.

Organizations like the Annex Cat Rescue fight relentlessly to help cats across the city. Operating on a strictly no-kill basis, our extensive network of foster homes gives cats from all backgrounds the love and care they need to thrive so that they can be successfully adopted into their “forever homes.”

In 2014, 180 cats were happily adopted thanks to the dedication and kindness of our volunteers and donors like you. We also helped feed and provide veterinary care to over 400 feral cats. We save lives. And we can’t do it without you.

The Annex Cat Rescue relies entirely on donations to keep running – which we’ve been doing since 1997. In this envelope you’ll find a donation card and a self-addressed envelope, postage paid. We know we can count on you to help us fulfill our vision for Toronto to be a city where all cats are loved and cared for.

With your help, they can all have an ending as happy as Winter’s.


Risa de Rege
Annex Cat Rescue


Winter wouldn’t have received the urgent medical care he needed without the generous financial support of our donors – people just like you who care about animals and agree with us that all cats should have access to the love and care they deserve. Help make success stories like his the norm for all cats in need by donating today.

Christina Williams: Learning to Breathe

We love sharing great writing from our students. Here’s a piece from Cristina Williams, class of 2015-16.

Will you let stress consume you or will you take a breath?

By Cristina Williams

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a cream-coloured MINI Cooper, crawling through an unlit industrial area of a Toronto suburb. My friend Louise is driving, and I’m peering into the darkness, looking for the yoga studio where our friend Kate, a mindfulness coach, will be holding her meditation event Reboot 4.0.

It’s 6:57. The event begins at 7 p.m.

It’s too dark to see street numbers. I’m ready to suggest we go home but remember Google maps on my iPhone. I only ever use my phone for texting and checking email a million times a day. I’m grateful for it at this moment more than usual.

I type in the address. We appear as a blue dot. I’m relieved to see we’re only one minute away from the studio. As Louise drives, the blue dot moves further away from our destination.

We’re going the wrong way.

We turn around. Louise and I have both been under a lot of stress lately, for different reasons, and the stress in the car feels palpable. I almost expect it to materialize in some beastly form and laugh at us before devouring us. I begin to wonder if I’m too stressed to meditate. Is that possible?

A shop window beckons us. Filled with incandescent chandeliers, the shop is magical in the barren landscape. A beacon in the darkness. Next to it stands a discreet building. The yoga studio.

We pull in, park and rush inside. I’m eager to see Kate. This is the first time I’ll see her in action, doing what she loves.

A man and woman standing behind a table with an aqua glass top greet us and usher us into a room. About 50 people sit in fold up chairs that face a window lined with burning candles.

We spy Kate. Her blond hair is growing out. A big smile on her face, she comes over. We all hug and chat for a few moments. The energy in the room feels good, and Kate is serene, vibrant and glowing.

Louise and I take seats in the second row. Kate walks up and begins her talk. She is cerebral and self-contained. Dressed in a grey tunic, leggings and tall boots, she struts back and forth, delivering facts about stress.

Technology has sped up the pace of life. We receive on average 176 emails per day. Sixty per cent of Canadian workers are stressed, on the edge of losing it. Stress makes us sick.

Kate shares her story. She lived on autopilot until cancer stopped her in her tracks. With the help of mindfulness meditation, she learned how to face cancer with openness and to accept it as a chance to change the way she lives her life.

Her presentation rivets her audience. But facts and theory never measure up to practice. Before engaging us in a seated meditation, Kate has us stand in mountain pose, stable and rooted but ever changing.

Stress melts away. Moments of focused breathing usher in awareness and my being lightens. Nothing matters in those moments. I’m present. All I have is now. And it is beautiful.

Although I’m thankful for technology, I know I can live without it for an hour, even two. Even my email can wait.

Tip from Kate: Take 3 Deep Breaths. If you can’t meditate for 5-10 minutes you can likely take 3 deep breaths. Breathe deeply so that your belly moves in and out. Take a few deep breaths before a meeting to clear the noise in your head.